Unfortunately, the censorship of apps on the Internet is a much easier tool for repressive governments to apply. In countries such as China and Russia, it is like a return to the “good old days” when books were banned by totalitarian governments or local authorities and other self-appointed censors. It seems like censoring apps can be done in a very effective and efficient way if any government so chooses. Banning an app from an App Store is like shutting down the printing press before the book is ever published. If the app isn’t in a country’s App Store, it effectively doesn’t exist. The censorship is nearly total and inescapable.
In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove the New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store. Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the networks declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country. Finally, two weeks ago, a Chinese regulator asked App Stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.
Decentralized communications was once a central promise of the Internet. Not any more. Big brother may be watching, and blocking.